Tuesday, 30 October 2001

Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped (1886)

Edition: Cassell, 1898 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 981

This deservedly famous novel marks a stage of development in the popular thriller from the romances of writers like Scott. It tells the story of David Balfour, who discovers, on his father's death, that he is the rightful heir of the estate of Shaws, in the hands of his miserly uncle Ebenezer. However, his uncle has him kidnapped and put on board a ship, which plans to sell him as a slave in America. The ship is wrecked on an island off the Mull of Kintyre, and David makes his way back across the Scottish Highlands to where he can communicate with a lawyer, in the company of wanted Jacobite Alan "Breck" Stewart. (The story is set soon after the 1745 rebellion, when the clampdown on Jacobinism was at its height.)

The relationship between David and Alan Breck - who is a historical character - is the heart of the novel, the rest being a hackneyed missed inheritance plot against a background of Highland scenery. Neither is portrayed as flawless, though David as narrator is far more aware of Alan's faults than of his own. They are different, rounded characters and, even if the novel seems old-fashioned in places, they are why Kidnapped has become a perennial classic.

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